Comelec deposits election system software in BSP vault

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday, January 27, deposited in escrow inside a highly-secured vault at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) the first of 3 software for the 2016 national elections.

Comelec chairman Andy Bautista brought to the BSP a metal safety deposit box containing a sealed envelope with a thumb drive inside. Saved in the thumb drive are the election management system (EMS) software, its encrypted source code, and related hash codes.

These files were the result of the final trusted build process spearheaded by international certification entity SLI Global Solutions on Tuesday. 

The deposit of the software in escrow in BSP is required under Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election Law, said Bautista.

“The BSP is the most secured place in the Philippines,” noted its deputy governor Vicente Aquino. 

“We will ensure that [the software] will be safe throughout its custody in escrow here in BSP. We will not touch it, we will not look into it, we will not look at it, we will just ensure that it’s there, untouched by anyone.”

Aquino noted that not even BSP officials have access to the vault. “We have to pass through so many security, I’d say, impediments.”

The EMS software will join in the vault the source codes used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, said Bautista.

He added that the Comelec will be paying P1,700 per month to BSP for the safekeeping of the software.

Bautista said he was no stranger to the BSP vault, because confiscated jewelry from the Martial Law regime were also stored there. 

“For me, it’s like déjà vu,” said Bautista, who was the former chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, tasked to go after the ill-gotten wealth during the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

Two more source codes – those for the vote-counting machines (VCM) and the consolidation and canvassing system (CCS) – will be deposited in BSP on February 9.

The Comelec, meanwhile, will begin loading the executable file of the EMS software in the servers at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna, on Wednesday. This will start the process of preparing the ballot faces, among others. (READ: How does the PH automated election system work?)

Security protocol

Some members of the media, including Rappler, were drawn in a lot for the opportunity to observe the process of depositing the software. For security reasons, no cameras or electronic devices were allowed inside the vault.

The BSP vault has a big, thick metal door that can only be opened electronically. A cage assigned to the Comelec was unlocked. In the cage, a metal vault cabinet was opened.

After Bautista showed the metal boxes with the 2010 and 2013 source code and the 2016 EMS software was placed inside, the metal cabinet was locked and the cage secured again with two padlocks, their keyholes sealed with tape.

Lim explained that any person, even the poll chief, would have to get consent from the Comelec en banc to gain access to the vault. After that, the BSP Monetary Board would have to issue its own resolution, too.

“We also have to make sure that not one person on his or her own can enter the vault,” added Bautista.

Asked about what would warrant the extraction of the source codes from the vault, Lim surmised that one of the cases would be when something goes wrong with the software.

“Then, you want to extract the source code to compare with the hash code being used, to determine if it's still the same. Let's say, in a presidential protest, there's a question of whether the machine counted fraudulently, and you want to compare the hash codes,” Lim explained. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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